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A generic term for dissidents from the Established Church in Russia

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Raskolniks (Russian raskolnik, a schismatic, a dissenter; from raskol, schism, splitting; that in turn from raz, apart, and kolot, to split; plural, raskolniki), a generic term for dissidents from the Established Church in Russia. Under the name Raskolniki, the various offshoots and schismatic bodies originating from the Greek Orthodox Church of the Russian Empire have been grouped by Russian historians and ecclesiastical writers. Strictly speaking, the name Raskolniki refers merely to those who have kept the outward forms of the Byzantine Rite; the others who have deserted its ritual as well as its teachings are grouped under the general Russian name of Sektanstvo (sectarianism). In the present article they are both treated together, since either form of dissent is but slightly known outside of Russia. The Raskolniks represent in the Russian Church somewhat the antithesis of Protestantism towards the Catholic Church. Protestants left the Church because they claimed a desire to reform it by dropping dogmas, beliefs, and rites; the Raskolniks left the Russian Church because they desired to keep alive the minutest rites and practices to which they were accustomed, and objected to the Russian Church reforming them in any respect. In doing so they fell into the greatest of inconsistencies, and a section of them, while keeping up the minutiae of ritual, rejected nearly every doctrine the Church taught throughout the world.

TRUE RASKOLNIKS—Even from the time that the Russians were converted to Christianity there were various dissident sects among them, reproducing in some respects the almost forgotten heresies of the early ages of the Church. These are mere names today, but the main separation from the Russian Established Church came in 1654 when Nikon, Patriarch of Moscow, convened a synod at Moscow for the reform of the ritual and correction of the church books. At the time the air in Southern Russia was filled with the idea of union with Rome, in Central and Northern Russia there was the fear of the Polish invasion and the turning to Latin customs. When Nikon corrected the Church service books, into which many errors had crept by careless copying, and conformed them to the original Greek text, great complaint was expressed that he was departing from old Slavonic hallowed words, and was making cause with the stranger outside of Russia. When he undertook to change the style of popular forms and ceremonies, such as the sign of the cross, the spelling and pronunciation of “Jesus”, shaving the beard, or to differ in the number of Alleluias before the Gospel, he aroused popular resentment, which rose until there came an open break in which every point he proposed was rejected. Afterwards when Peter the Great came to the throne (1689-1725) and introduced western customs, abolished the Patriarchate of Moscow, substituted the Holy Synod and made himself the head of Church authority, changed the forms of the ancient Russo-Slavonic letters and set on foot a host of new things in Church and State, the followers of the old order of things publicly condemned him as the Antichrist and renounced the State Church for ever, while clinging to the older forms of their fathers. But both Nikon and Peter had the whole Russian episcopate with them as well as the great majority of the Russian clergy and people. The dissenters who thus separated from the established Greco-Russian Orthodox Church became also known as Stariobriadtsi (old Ritualists) and Staroviertsi (old Believers), in allusion to their adherence to the forms and teaching prevailing before Nikon‘s reforms.

As none of the Russian bishops seceded from the Established Church the Raskolniks therefore had but an incomplete form of Church. Of course a number of priests and deacons adhered to them, but as they had no bishops they could not provide new members of the clergy. Soon death began to thin the ranks of their clergy and it became apparent that within a brief period they would be left without any priesthood whatever. Then some of their leaders began to deny that priesthood was necessary at all. This led to the splitting of the Raskolniks into two distinct branches: the Popovtsi (Priestly, i.e. “Pope“-ly), who insisted on the hierarchy and priesthood, and the Bezpopovtsi (Priestless, i.e. without “Popes”), who denied the necessity of any clergy whatever. The latter, however, accepted their ministrations. The fortunes of these two denominations or sects were quite different. The former grew to great importance in Russia, and are now said to have between thirteen and fifteen millions of adherents. The latter subdivided again and again into smaller sects, and are said to number between three and four millions, all included. They will be taken up separately.

Popovtsi or Hierarchical Raskolniks.—At first these renewed their clergy by taking over dissatisfied or dismissed priests from the established Orthodox Church, after having them take an oath against all the reforms instituted by Nikon and Peter; but this method was hardly satisfactory, for in most cases the material thus obtained was of a low moral grade. They believed that the whole Russian episcopate had gone over to Antichrist, but still were valid bishops, and hence endeavored to have priests ordained by them, but in vain. They searched the Eastern world for a bishop who held their peculiar ideas, and it seemed almost as though they must eventually change for lack of clergy, when chance aided them. A community of Popovisi monks had settled at Bielokrinitsa (White Fountain) in Bukowina. Ambrose (1791-1263), a Greek monk, was appointed Bishop of Sarajevo in Bosnia, and was consecrated by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Subsequently a later patriarch deposed him, and when his resentful feelings against the Constantinople authorities were at their height, the Raskolniks approached him with the request to become their bishop. On April 16, 1846, Ambrose agreed to go over to their faith and adopt all the ancient practices, consecrate other bishops for them, and become their metropolitan or archbishop. On October 27, 1846, he was solemnly received in the monastery of Bielo-krinitsa, took the necessary oaths, celebrated pontifical Mass and assumed episcopal jurisdiction. Bielo-krinitsa is only a few miles from the Russian border, and a hierarchy was soon brought into being for Russia. After bishops were consecrated for Austria and Turkey, bishops were consecrated and installed in Russia. The Russian Government could not crush the head of the Raskol Church, for it was in Austria. The Popovtsi grew by leaps and bounds, commenced to provide for a regular educated clergy and vied with the Established Church. At present they have, since the decree of toleration in 1905, a well-established hierarchy in Russia, with a metropolitan at Moscow, and bishops at Saratoff, Perm, Kazan, Caucasus, Samara, Kolomea, Nijni-Novgorod, Smolensk, Vyatka, and Kaluga.

Their chief stronghold is the Rogozhsky quarter in Moscow, where they have their great cemetery, monastery, cathedral, church, and chapels. In 1863, at the time of the Polish insurrection the Raskolnik archbishop and his lay advisers sent out an encyclical letter to the “Holy Catholic Apostolic Church of the Old Believers”, supporting the tsar and declaring that on all main points they were in agreement with the Established Church. This again split their Church into two factions which last to this day: the Okruzhniki or Encyclicalists and the Razdorniki or Controversialists, who denied the points of agreement with the national Church. In addition to this the Established Church has now set up a section of these Raskolniks in union with it, but has permitted them to keep all their peculiar practices, and these are called the Yedinovertsi or “Uniates”. A great many of the controversial section of the Raskolniks are coming into the Catholic Church, and already some eight or ten priests have been received.

Bezpopovtsi, or the Priestless, seemed to represent the despairing side of the schism. They have their great stronghold in the Preobrazhenky quarter in Moscow, and are strong also in the Government of Archangel. They took the view that Satan had so far conquered and throttled the Church that the clergy had gone wrong and had become his servants, that the sacraments, except baptism, were withdrawn from the laity, and that they were left leaderless. They claimed the right of free interpretation of the Scriptures, and modeling their lives accordingly. They recognize no ministers save their “readers” who are elected. Lest this be said to duplicate Protestantism, one must remember that they have kept up all the Orthodox forms of service as far as possible, crossings, bowings, icons, candles, fasting, and the like, and have regularly maintained monasteries with their monks and nuns. But they had no element of stability; and their sects have become innumerable, ever shifting and varying, with incessant divisions and subdivisions. The chief of the subdivisions are: (I) Pomortsi; or dwellers near the sea, a rural division which is very devout; (2) Feodocei (Theodosians) who founded hospitals and laid emphasis on good works; (3) Bezbrachniki (free lovers) who repudiated marriage, somewhat like the Oneida community in New York; (4) Stranniki (wanderers) a peripatetic sect, who went over the country, declaring their doctrines; (5) Molchalniki (mutes), who seldom spoke, believing evil came through the tongue and idle conversation i and (6) Niemoliaki (non-praying), who taught that as God knows all things it is useless to pray to him, as He knows what one needs. These various divisions of the Priestless are again divided into smaller ones, like many of the strange sects in England and America, so that it is almost impossible to follow them. Often they indulge in the wildest immorality, justifying it under the cover of some distorted text of Scripture or some phrase of the ancient Church service.

SECTARIANS.—The various bodies which make up the Sektanstvo have seceded from the national Russian Church quite independently of the schism at the time of Nikon and the reform in the Church books. They correspond more closely with the various sects arising from Protestantism, and are founded upon some distorted idea of the Church, or a rule of life or doctrines of the Faith. Some of them are older than the schism, but most of them are later in point of time. The principal ones comprise between one and two millions and may be subdivided or classified as follows: (I) Khlysti (Flagellants), who believe in severe penances, reject the Church, its sacraments and usages. They are also called the Ludi Bozhi, or “God‘s People”, and also the “Farmazoni” (Free-masons) on account of the secret initiations they have. They hold secret meetings in which they sing wild, stirring hymns, dress in white, and jump, dance, or whirl, much like the negro revivals in the Southern States.

Skoptsi (Eunuchs) who not only teach absolute celibacy, but mutilate themselves so as to be sexless. They boast that they are pure like the saints and walk untainted through this world of sin, and take the literal view of Matt., xix, 12. Women are also mutilated, particularly after they have borne children to recruit the sect, but these children are not born in wedlock. The Skoptsi are said to be usurers and money changers.

Molokani (Milk-drinkers) said to be so named because they make it a point to drink milk and use other prohibited foods during Lent and fast days, to show their objection to the Orthodox Church. They abhor all external ceremonies of religion, but lay stress upon the Bible. They say there is no teacher of the Faith but Christ himself and that we are all priests; and they carry their logic so far as to have neither church nor chapel, simply meeting in one anothers’ houses.

Dukhobors (Spirit wrestlers) are those who deny the Holy Ghost and who place but a minor importance upon the Scriptures. They are better known to America, for some thousands of them emigrated to Canada, where they are now good colonists. They give a wide place to tradition, and designate man as “the living book”, in opposition to dead books of paper and ink. In some respects they are pantheists, saying that God lies within us, that we must struggle with the spirit of God to attain the fulness of life. They do not give an historical reality to the Gospel narratives, but take them figuratively. Their idea of the Church is in conformity with their belief; they consider it an assembly of the righteous on earth, whether Christians, Jews, or Moslems. Yet they have all the peculiarities and fanaticism of the Slay.

Stundists, or a kind of Russian Baptists. These seem to be an offshoot from the Lutherans or Mennonites who settled in Russia. The name is derived from the German Stunde or hour, because they assembled at stated hours to read the Bible or worship. They rejected the sacraments, even baptism at first, but yet retain it. They gave up all Church holidays, and agreed with the Melokani in repudiating the idea of a clergy. They are nearly all Little Russians, in the South of Russia.

Subbotniki (Sabbatarians), who have substituted Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, for Sunday. They have also taken up a great many Jewish practices from the Old Testament along with such elemental Christian forms which they retain. They are practically Unitarians, and expect the Messias; and they are also said to be like the Mormons, living in polygamy in many instances, although most of them are content with one wife. Besides these principal sects there are numerous smaller ones. One can run almost the same round of strange and erratic religious beliefs in Russia as in the United States. There are the Pliassuny (Dancers), Samobogi (Self-gods), Chislenniki (Computers), who have changed Sunday so as to fall on Wednesday, and Easter to the middle of the week, Pashkovites, Radstockites (so named after their founders), and numerous others, which exploit some peculiar tenet of their various founders and believers. In addition to these are the various missionary enterprises and local churches of Western Protestantism, of which the Lutherans and Baptists are the leading ones.


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